- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2015

After starting 2015 as the presumptive front-runner with a huge bankroll, Jeb Bush has to be ending the year wondering what went wrong with his presidential campaign, what happened to his Republican Party and where all his money went.

Mr. Bush and his super PAC burned through more than half of the $133 million they raised in the first three quarters this year. The return on that investment has been a drop in polls from about 15 percent when he entered the race in June to about 4 percent in recent surveys.

“He has not been a great candidate and the campaign never seemed to hit its strides despite all the money he had,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Jacksonville.

He had to slash his campaign payroll nearly in half and reorganize into a leaner operation in October when it became clear that the spending was out of control and donations were drying up while his run had stagnated in the middle of a crowded Republican field.

His campaign and his super PAC, Right to Rise, have splurged more than $37 million on ads, more than any other candidate and about a third of the total spent by all the candidates combined on advertising this year.

Yet he is still stuck in fifth place and more than 30 percentage points behind front-runner Donald Trump in most polls in December.

But for Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor whose father and brother both occupied the White House and whose family name is synonymous with the Republican Party, the worst part likely has been losing and losing badly to Mr. Trump, a boorish and insult-spewing political neophyte.

Mr. Bush entered the presidential race with the baggage of his family name, which helped him with political connections and fundraising but hobbled him with the fresh memory of the troubled presidency of his brother, George W. Bush, who left office in 2009 with the country mired in the Iraq War and a job approval rating of 35 percent.

Despite a conservative record as governor, Mr. Bush turned off conservative voters with his support of Common Core education standards and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

More than anything else, Republican voters didn’t want another Bush.

“It was one of those cases when he was trying to sell a product that a lot of Republicans weren’t buying,” said Mr. Jewett, who has studied Mr. Bush’s political career since he ran unsuccessfully for Florida governor in 1994.

In addition to being the consummate establishment guy in a year when Republican voters are looking for an outsider, Mr. Bush lacked the fundamental drive needed to win the presidency.

“It hasn’t always been obvious that he has a burning desire to go out and do all the things you have to do to be president,” said the professor. “He just doesn’t seem to really, really want it badly.”

Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey, agreed.

“Jeb Bush never entered this race with a lot of support,” he said. “He got a little bit of support mainly because he was touted as the front-runner. But as soon as he got on the stage, the voters looked at him, particularly in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, and said, ‘You know what? Thank’s for your service to the country. Your brother and father had their time in the Oval Office, and now it’s time for somebody new.’

“Bush never presented himself as something that was new or different,” he said. “I really don’t see anything catching fire there.”

Still, Mr. Bush has said he is in the race for the long haul and staying in the hunt though Super Tuesday and the other March primaries.

The campaign has settled on a strategy of waiting for Republican voters to come to their senses, abandon Mr. Trump and seek out a more serious candidate in Mr. Bush.

“People, I think, will go into the voting booth and say, ‘Who is best fit to be our next president?’ And clearly, you look at Donald Trump and he’s full of vulgarity, he’s full of insults and he’s just not serious,” Bush campaign surrogate and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said recently on Fox News.

Also an establishment figure, Mr. Cantor lost his House seat in a Richmond, Virginia, district in a 2014 primary election upset to tea party-backed Dave Brat.

After months of trying to ignore Mr. Trump and stay above the fray, Mr. Bush has begun aggressively attacking the billionaire businessman and reality TV star.

He took repeated shots at Mr. Trump in the Dec. 15 candidates debate in Las Vegas, including calling him a “chaos candidate” and “unhinged.”

Mr. Bush then featured his blustery performance in a TV ad titled “The Only One,” in which he knocked rivals Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for failing to stand up to Mr. Trump.

The gloves also came off on the stump.

“I’ve got to get this off my chest: Donald Trump is a jerk,” Mr. Bush said, eliciting laughs and applause at a town-hall-style meeting in Contoocook, New Hampshire.

“You can’t insult your way to the presidency. You can’t disparage women, Hispanics, disabled people. Who is he kidding? This country is far better than that,” said Mr. Bush. “The idea that he is actually running for president insulting people is deeply discouraging to be honest with you, and I think we should reject that out of hand. A guy like that should not be the front-running candidate of our great party. That’s not how we win.”

He joked that his outburst, albeit measured, was a form of therapy.

“I feel better now,” he said. “I’m glad you allowed me to do it.”

Mr. Jewett, the professor, said it was an understandable strategy, but Mr. Bush risked pushing away Mr. Trump’s supporters whom he should be courting.

“It’s a fairly dramatic move to try to stem the declining poll numbers and get Jeb back in the race, but it’s a risky strategy and it probably won’t work,” he said. “He’s hoping there is still a big reservoir of establishment Republicans who will show up and vote.”

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